Pumping new life in Hillsborough River
Unveiling a new pump station sounds uninspiring, but the ceremony Mayor Bob Buckhorn presided over earlier this week represented a remarkable milestone in the revitalization of the Hillsborough River and the city of Tampa. The accomplishment was a long time coming. It offers lessons in the value of persistence and stewardship. The pump station Buckhorn officially opened Monday near the Sulphur Springs pool off Nebraska Avenue is part of a comprehensive plan to restore a healthy fresh water flow to the lower Hillsborough River. The dam at Rowlett Park creates a reservoir that provides most of Tampa's drinking water.But it also halts the lower river's water flow about 200 days a year. During dry periods the picturesque river became a stagnant, salty mess. For years, little was done about the ecological damage, but residents near the river and river activists continued to push for relief. State regulators acknowledged the need to maintain minimum water flow, and city officials began looking for reasonable solutions. They came up with a plan to help the river without jeopardizing the city's drinking water supply. The new station can pump millions of gallons of water a day from Sulphur Springs two miles upstream to the base of the dam. But it is only part of a larger network being developed that — when needed — will pump water from various springs and the Tampa Bypass Canal into the reservoir to allow at least 13 million gallons a day be released downstream. The entire network will cost $22.9 million. The city is sharing the costs with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which regulates water use in the region. All this will be good for fish and wildlife, as it increases the water's oxygen levels and lowers salinity levels. Estuarine habitat will be revived. But a cleaner, invigorated river also will be good for surrounding homeowners and businesses. Of course, all this replumbing work would not be necessary if city fathers had been more attentive to the river's welfare as Tampa grew. Most of the harm was done generations ago, when Florida's water sources seemed inexhaustible and no one gave much thought to conservation or pollution. We now know that it is better for taxpayers and the environment to safeguard resources. But there is no sense lamenting omissions of the past. A vital Hillsborough River, through the heart of the city, makes Tampa a more appealing place to live and work. Buckhorn had it right when he said a healthy river equals a healthy city.